Black Mothering Is A Means Of Protest

Exemplified By The Mothers Of The Movement

photo by Femi Matti

“ ‘I am about life,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m gonna live as hard as I can and as full as I can until I die. And I’m not letting these parasites, these oppressors, these greedy racist swine make me kill my children in my mind before they are even born. I’m going to live and I’m going to love Kamau, and, if a child comes from that union, I’m going to rejoice. Because our children are our futures and I believe in the future and in the strength and righteousness of our struggle.’ I was ready for whatever happened. I relaxed and let nature take its course.”
— Assata Shakur,
Assata: An Autobiography

Lucia McBath, the mother of murdered teen Jordan Davis, stood before the DNC tonight and said solemnly, “I lived in fear that my son would die like this. I even warned him.”

I know the fear she mentions, intimately. Every Black mother knows this terror. We are lucky every day that we don’t wind up living it. It’s enough to make a body quit birthing. It’s enough to quell the urge to continue ourselves. Some of us refuse mothering because of it, as a painful and hard act of mercy. They want to spare their hypothetical children all of the inevitable suffering, and I don’t blame them one bit.

In America, Black mothering can feel as futile as Sisyphus’ mission. The system pushes against our dreams, like gravity against the Greek myth’s boulder.

But we push back.

As in every era of American summers, the summer I became a mother was a summer drenched in Black blood. I spent many nights clutching my belly, trying to will my son to stay where I could still protect him. Two summers later, and Black blood still flows with no signs of slowing. My veins thicken and bulge again, one of the early tells of pregnancy. Making a life is a slow crawl to the miraculous. Every cell in my body prioritizes this life making labor. And while it works, my Twitter feed floods with the latest recordings of the end of somebody’s Black baby. And another mother’s baby watches from the back seat.

Where do Black mothers put all that terror when we have to mother through it? How do we rise to roll the rock uphill? Despite the evidence, we resist the narrative that Black lives are born simply to suffer. We mother as a means of protest against a world that says we shouldn’t exist.

Lesley McSpadden stood silently on stage, tonight, in honor of her son, Mike Brown. But I hear her in my head, like the first time I heard her, in the summer of 2014.

“You took my son away from me. Do you know how hard it was for me to
get him to stay in school and graduate? Do you know how many Black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this level where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway. ‘They going to try to take me out anyway.’”

My son’s not even two yet, so I know only a minuscule amount of the work she’s speaking of. Most of the heavy lifting is ahead of me. But already, I ask myself the hard questions. By day we gear up for the hurdle of potty training. By night my husband and I try to tackle problems there aren’t tutorials for. Problems like: How are we going to raise a Black child who isn’t destroyed by a world that can so easily destroy him? How do we teach him his worth in a place so eager to undermine us? How do we hand him the map of the many traps laid for him, without breaking his will to navigate life at all?

As my son grows, so does my resolve to fight for solutions. I watch the seed he once was sprout into a tiny bud, and from a bud he will bloom into something the world will deem dangerous. But I see his softness. And society’s refusal to see the full scope of him charges me to fight for him to keep all of who he is. Society’s determination to deny him a full life compels me to do everything I can to give him the one he’s entitled to.

The Mothers of the Movement wear red flowers on their lapel for their
children. They preserve what this country tried to crush in its fist. In my mind I see gravity move backwards. I see the boulder halt from falling, I see it rewinding itself uphill. I watch the reverse bloom of these Black mothers’ babies, back into buds, back into seeds. Back into dreams their mothers had of what could’ve been.

I fight for the dreams of these mothers, for my mother’s dreams, and for mine. I mother as a means of protest. I push back. My spirit rallies against the narrative that all hope is lost for us. I give birth to the future. I demand a place for us. I demand for my children the fully lived lives that they deserve.

And in my home I create a new world, one where my son can live at ease. In my home Black babies are nurtured, safe, and loved. And in the legacy of Black moms before me, I work to change the place outside these walls. I trudge uphill, against the weight of man-made gravity.

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